Environment Secretary Liz Truss has announced that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will be scrapping current guidelines on a range of statutory animal welfare codes and making the animal agriculture industry self-regulating.
The first step will be giving the British Poultry Council control over the code on chicken farming, meaning that from April 27, the industry itself will be in charge of writing and upholding its own welfare codes.
Legislation that criminalises the mistreatment of animals will not be changed, but these statutory codes are vital tools used by magistrates to gauge the severity of particular abuse cases. Therefore, news of the deregulation, which was revealed in a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, has been met with strong opposition from animal welfare campaigners.
A spokesman for Animal Aid called the proposals “absolutely awful” while the charity Compassion in World Farming said it was deeply concerned about the scope for animal welfare standards to be weakened.
However, according to Defra, overarching animal welfare legislation that sets out criminal offences will remain in place alongside the new industry code and no changes are being made to farm animal welfare legislation or the strict enforcement and penalties that apply.
Despite these assurances, charities are concerned that the move regarding poultry could weaken animal welfare standards on farms and lead to fewer prosecutions for animal cruelty. In fact, the RSPCA has been voicing concerns for the past three years about the “downgrading” of the guidelines from statutory codes to industry-led guidance and has criticised the lack of transparency around the process.
However, according to the British Poultry Council, there will be no weakening of standards and the new chicken guidance has been reviewed using a “significant amount of research” from the industry.